A lot of people are worried about money right now. The economy of North America is shaking in its leaky rubber boots. But I am going to continue to say, “Let’s go to Florence!” Or the Grand Canyon, or the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Even in uncertain times, travel is still worth the money. Here’s why:
1. The world is such a vast place (a.k.a. My country is not, in fact, the centre of the universe.)
Many of us live most of our lives in the relatively small world that exists between home, school, work, family and the grocery store. Travel allows us to develop a better understanding of the vastness of the planet and the complexity of the cultures that call it home. I have lived in both Colombia and Mexico but it was not until I moved to Barcelona, Spain (the motherland), that I began to really understand Latin American culture—including the enormous fondness for blowing things up (at close range) at festivals and the culture’s reverence for the Virgin Mary. As a Canadian with Scotch-Irish roots who had not visited Great Britain until this year, I was amazed to see so many Dubliners and Londoners who looked just like me, with those same blue eyes and ruddy cheeks. Travel has helped me understand where I come from and where I fit in as a Canadian living in Europe.
2. Travel helps you get over yourself
Usually I’m pretty good with directions, but drop me into the metro system in Paris and I want to cry like a baby. I’m accustomed to feeling and being competent. Some of the obstacles I encounter while traveling make me uncomfortable and remind me just how many skills I still need to develop. Necessity is, however, a master teacher. When I decipher the metro map, buy my ticket in creaky high-school French, and finally, emerge in front of the Louvre under my own steam, I feel so proud of my small accomplishment. Plus, the Mona Lisa is inside and I could look at that painting forever. (Yes, I know. It’s smaller than I expected. I like it anyway!) Travel locks us out of our comfort zone, throws away the key, and forces us to adapt. Now!
3. Travel is filled with amazing highs—and many of them are free!
Do you remember how you felt on Christmas morning when you were five years old? You crept down the hallway to the tree and, just as your parents had promised, Santa had been to your house while you were sleeping that deep sleep that only small children seem capable of. Your stocking, hung carefully the night before, was bulging with good stuff and you could hardly breathe you were so excited.
You can experience that magical childhood moment again and again when you travel! For you, it might be the first time you see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia in Florence or the Pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico. Or it could be at the Great Wall of China. Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaiso, Chile. The Eiffel Tower. The Rocky Mountains. The Mediterranean Sea. Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. Ayers Rock in Australia. Vegas, baby! The “happy places” are different for each of us but I promise that visiting yours will make you giddy with excitement and grateful to be alive.
4. Your travels don’t end just because your vacation does
I feel terribly sad when a trip ends; a little grey cloud descends over me as I resume “regular” life. But after a few days, if I don’t dwell too much on my sorry state, I find myself rebounding. I’ll order a cup of café au lait like those I enjoyed during our trip to France, or prepare to make mole for the first time after traveling in Mexico. Maybe I’ll visit the library and come home with a history of the settlement of the American West. We bring the music and food and smells home with us; life spills over into life.
Being home also allows you to share your adventures with others. When we lived in Mexico, friends invited us to a post-vacation party and each person was asked to bring his or her favourite travel photos on a pen drive or computer. We ate potluck, drank good Chilean wine and Corona and Sol with lime, and watched the travel slide show of a lifetime. You should definitely try this one at home!
5. You realize that that people everywhere have a great deal in common
It can seem, when you are traveling, like you have just landed on Mars. I remember visiting Budapest, Hungary, and being undone by the language. Hungarian is a Uralic language and is unrelated to most other languages in Europe. We had learned a few basic phrases but we couldn’t read the street signs. Then we took a train from Budapest to Prague and sat with a young Hungarian woman who was going to visit her boyfriend in Italy. She talked with us about university and relationships and the future and we exchanged e-mail addresses when she got off the train. The world had suddenly become so small. This young woman was struggling with the same types of issues that my younger sister is dealing with, just halfway around the world and in Hungarian. If we permit it, travel transforms us into more compassionate creatures; travel can bring home just how much the people of the world have in common.
“Let’s go to Florence!” I say.
This post was first published as a guest post at Secret Agent Josephine on September 12, 2008.